Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Psychiatry, the devil and Gloria Steinem

140324SteinemMarch 24, 2014

As described in Richard Noll’s “When Psychiatry Battled the Devil,” the 7th annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, held in Chicago in November 1990, proved to be a turning point in mainline psychiatry’s attitude toward “satanic ritual abuse” and the multiple personalities it supposedly spawned.

It was also notable for the involvement of perhaps the country’s most celebrated believer in SRA.

“A large hotel ballroom (was) filled with most of the more than 700 conference attendees,” Noll recalled. “Television crews were on hand…. So was Gloria Steinem….

“(Anthropologist Sherrill) Mulhern and I were strident in our outright rejection of the veracity of SRA claims….

“Steinem approached me after my talk and suggested materials to read which she felt would help me change my opinion of SRA accounts….”

Not only had Steinem been using Ms. magazine to promote claims of ritual abuse, MPD and repressed memory, but also – just months before the Chicago conference – she had underwritten an archeological search for the imaginary “McMartin tunnels.”

I asked Noll what else he remembered about their encounter.

“She came up to me while I was still sitting up on stage and hundreds of people were still milling around.  I didn’t recognize her at first until I stared down at her name tag, then she rolled her eyes and made a face that indicated, ‘Yeah, it’s me . . . .’

“She wrote down a couple of titles that I frankly do not remember….You know, for years I saved that piece of paper she wrote on.”

As far as I can tell, Steinem has never removed her name from the very long list of unapologetic SRA believers.  But who knows – maybe it’s a position she will want to reexamine as an octogenarian.

Sex-abuse journalism raises ‘strange question’

120625RabinowitzNov. 9, 2012

“Did I recognize that child sex abuse existed and was a serious problem? reporters would ask. A strange question, that. The discussion of no other crime would require such a disclaimer. Journalists who have written about false murder charges are seldom asked to provide reassurance that they know murder is a bad thing, and it really happens.”

– From “No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusations, False Witness and Other Terrors of Our Times” by Dorothy Rabinowitz  (2003)

How were defendants so skillful at dressing kids?

Nov. 30, 2011

111130Gardner“You have to start with the matter of probability. What every one of these (day care sex abuse) cases has in common is that no adult observer has actually seen a molestation in progress.

“Supposedly, these abuses are going on continually over a period of months. Almost always, they supposedly involve a number of adults and many children, with outsiders constantly walking in and out of these centers. Yet we have no corroborating eyewitnesses. None….

“Throughout it all, these children somehow always come home in the right shoes and socks and underpants. Do you have kids? Do you realize how hard it is to dress two kids in a hurry without some kind of mix-up, let alone 10 or 12 or 20 kids?”

– Dr. Richard A. Gardner, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, quoted in Playboy magazine (June 1992)

At long last, is APSAC cracking the door to recantation?

Richard Wexler


Richard Wexler

Oct. 5, 2016

Richard Wexler’s unequivocal recollection of how the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children promoted the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic made me curious about what APSAC might have to say about the subject today.

I was startled to see this description of a presentation at the organization’s most recent (June 21-25) annual colloquium in New Orleans:

“From disco to pet rocks, our past is littered with things which make us wonder, what in the world were we thinking? The field of child maltreatment and interpersonal violence has certainly had its share of misguided ideas, from satanic ritual abuse hysteria to multiple personality disorder treatment centers.  How did this field get so many things so wrong?”

Sorry I missed such a provocative self-examination! [I’ll post APSAC’s video soon.]

I asked Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, whether sanctioning the pet rock analogy might signify APSAC’s tacit disowning of  the “satanic ritual abuse” myth.

“I wouldn’t call it disowning,” he said. “Over the years their position seems to have evolved into ‘Well, yes, some people may have been a little overzealous, but…’  At one point, even Roland Summit, in his ‘Tunnels’ article, no less, tried to cast himself as falling between two extremes in the debate.

“What they have not done, of course, is apologize to the children victimized by the McMartin madness, and withdraw the awards given to Summit and [Kee] MacFarlane.”

Nor, of course, have they apologized to the wrongfully prosecuted defendants in cases such as McMartin and Little Rascals.


How to get attention: Why, ‘It’s getting worse every year’

121121ChaffinNov. 21, 2012

“The child abuse field has always been one that felt like there was not enough public policy attention, so the narrative reflected that: It’s at crisis proportions; it’s getting worse every year; it’s an epidemic….”

– Mark Chaffin, professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Dr. Chaffin’s observation wasn’t specific to the ritual sex abuse era, but he sure captures its ever-more-breathless conjuring of villains and victims.

Throw symptoms against the wall, see if any stick….

Dec. 4, 2015

“Hertford, N.C. – Three children who attended Little Rascals Day Care Center behaved strangely in kindergarten, a teacher testified Wednesday in the sex abuse trial of Dawn Wilson.

“Lisa Leary said one girl who attended the day care in Edenton refused to take a nap the year after Little Rascals closed. She also cried and wet her pants when she saw Elizabeth Kelly in a hall, she said.

“Another girl had to be separated from a boy after she mimicked a sex act with him during class, Leary said.
“A third child ‘did not want anyone to touch him’ and was concerned about fire, she said….”

– From “Kindergarten teacher testifies in Rascals trial” from the Associated Press (Dec. 3, 1992)

Although Dawn Wilson’s prosecutors never let up in their pursuit of the mythical “coherent package” of behaviors attributable to child sexual abuse, the questioning of this witness wandered even further into the weeds than usual. As the AP added dryly:

“On cross-examination by defense attorney Edward Simmons, the teacher said the children did not mention Wilson.”

‘They saw themselves as the good guys….’

May 21, 2012

Lee Coleman, a Berkeley, Calif.,  psychiatrist and co-author of “Has a Child Been Molested?” (2000), served as a consultant to the Little Rascals defense.

“When I examined the terrible interviewing methods,” he recalls, “it quickly became obvious that (Little Rascals) was like the McMartin and Kelly Michaels cases: a complete fabrication.”

How does Dr. Coleman account for therapists’ and prosecutors’ “unwillingness to see what was in front of their faces”?

“[(McMartin therapist) Kee MacFarlane became a national figure by claiming to know how to talk to kids to help them describe abuse. There followed a cadre of young, bushy-tailed professionals who saw themselves as the good guys of a movement. They were glamorous and self-righteous, and they had nothing left to think with. What if a child hadn’t been molested? They never thought about it….

“Then they led meetings across the country, where they taught their system to others, who applied it locally…”

Dr. Coleman’s characterization captures precisely the origin of the Little Rascals allegations, in which a seminar led by “sex rings” alarmist Ann Burgess attracted prosecutor H.P. Williams, therapist Judy Abbott and police dispatcher Brenda Toppin.